More masks, less distancing: California updates its Covid-19 school guidelines

Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

A fifth grade student watches a lesson through a protective shield.

California students and school staff must wear masks indoors when campuses reopen, whether or not they have been vaccinated, state officials said on Friday, relying on new federal guidelines on the safe reopening of schools.

According to state directives:

  • Students and state staff are required to continue to use masks indoors in schools, whether or not they are vaccinated.
  • The state will continue to provide free Covid-19 tests.
  • Physical distancing in schools is not recommended “because of the obstacles it would present to the full reopening of California schools.”

California guidelines are stricter than those issued by the federal government on Friday Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention, who say students and teachers do not have to wear masks if they have been vaccinated. The state is relaxing social distancing requirements, however, saying they are not mandatory if they prevent schools from fully reopening for in-person instruction. The state is also encouraging frequent testing and surveillance for infections in the community as a way to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The two agencies agreed on the importance of reopening schools for in-person instruction.

“We believe that with masking and testing, we can get the kids back to school in person, 100%,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Secretary of Health and Human Services. “We are delighted that the CDC is supporting this vision. “

While children as young as 12 are eligible for the vaccine, the CDC has not offered advice on how schools will know which students are vaccinated or how parents can find out which teachers have been vaccinated. The age limit for vaccine eligibility is particularly difficult at colleges, which include grade levels where students are likely to be 12 years old.

The California Department of Public Health will release more detailed guidelines for K-12 schools in the state on July 12.

State guidelines strike a balance between security and the need to reopen campuses, said Edgar Zazueta, senior director of policy and government relations for the Association of California School Administrators. Requiring masks can help make up for the loss of social distancing rules, he said.

“All things considered, this is a fair compromise,” he said. “There will undoubtedly be many families who will be upset that the state continues the mask’s mandate, but other families will be relieved.”

The California Teachers Association also backed the state guidelines, adding that schools should become community immunization centers.

“We know this pandemic is not over, but because of the availability of vaccines and the multiple safety measures put in place and practice, as well as the roadmap provided by today’s scientific guidance.” Today, school communities are in a good position to keep in-person lessons safe for students this fall, ”said union spokesperson Lisa Gardiner. “As CTA has always said, learning is best done in person, and educators want to be with their students in the classroom.”

National education leaders expressed support for the CDC guidelines, noting that the guidelines give states and districts flexibility to adapt rules to local conditions.

“Today’s direction is based on both science and common sense,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “It takes what we’ve learned about the transmission of Covid over the past few months – from learning in school, from camps and the effectiveness of vaccines – and charting the way forward for schools to fully reopen this autumn. “

Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, called the new guidelines “a scientific guide (to) support school district leaders in their work to ensure that schools are as open to education as possible.” in person for the start. of the school year 2021-22.

Meanwhile, health and education authorities are closely monitoring the delta variant, which is significantly more transmissible than the original Covid-19 strain and which is the dominant strain in many states, including California. So far, research is scarce on how, or if, the delta variant affects children, or how it might impact the reopening of schools.

“It’s fair to say that there is some anxiety about this, but so far it doesn’t affect back-to-school planning in person,” Zazueta said.

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